COLUMBIA — As if adding four new players last fall wasn’t enough change, the Missouri tennis team began its spring season Saturday with yet another new addition and she hasn’t even spent an entire month in Columbia.
MU junior Jessica Giuggioli was born in Piombino, Italy, a town along the east coast of Italy. She grew up in Turin.
Giuggioli, however, is not new to the United States. She transferred from the University of Kentucky, a consistently-ranked program where she was all-SEC as a freshman. Prior to that she spent over three years training in the states, mostly at Van der Meer Tennis Academy in South Carolina.
The journey that brought Giuggioli to Missouri was fueled by her love of tennis. She tried various sports growing up, but at around nine and a half years old she decided to pursue tennis more aggressively. For a while it was a serious hobby, serious enough that when she reached high school she was left with a very important decision.
“In Italy they want you to really focus on your studies and they don’t really like athletes,” Giuggioli said. “They don’t like to see you going to school and practicing a sport as something really important.” That’s why I was like ‘Well, I need to find another situation here because this is not working out.’”
When Jessica learned that in the US she would be able to pursue her education and her passion for tennis equally, it was not a hard decision to make.
Her choice to leave Kentucky was also a result of her desire to excel in tennis
“I really liked Kentucky, but things weren’t working out with the tennis, which is, you know, a big thing in my life,” Giuggioli said. “So I had to make sure that was the best.”
While many schools showed interest, Giuggioli chose Mizzou because it felt like a good fit.
“When I came [to Mizzou] on my recruiting trip I kind of fell in love with it,” she said. “I really liked the campus.”
She also admits that the facilities had a big impact on her decision, especially MU’s new student rec center that she said left her “shocked.”
Another factor was the impression that the team made on her when she visited.
“I felt like the whole atmosphere was very friendly,” she said. “I felt like I could fit in on the team.”
So far, Giuggioli says that has remained true since the team’s first road trip to Arkansas last weekend. The team lost 7-0 to the ranked Lady Razorbacks. Giuggioli was the one Tiger to win a set despite her loss.
Coach Blake Starkey is excited to have Giuggioli. When he first heard she was looking to transfer, Starkey asked several coaches about her and after talking with her himself, he knew she would not only have a positive impact on the team, but that she would be a good fit personality-wise.
“Everything I heard from other coaches I liked. They were like ‘great attitude,’ Starkey said. “Like when I talked to the Mississippi coach he said ‘We never beat that girl, I’m glad she’s leaving Kentucky, we never beat her.’ And I talked to Arkansas and [their coach said] ‘She’s given us fits.’ And I know those teams, so you can look at it very black and white and say she helps us. We’re glad that she’s here.”
Giuggioli hopes that she can help bring the team a national ranking during the season, but doesn’t feel like any of that burden lies solely on her shoulders because of her sudden arrival.
“I feel like there is a healthy amount of pressure on me here,” she said. “It allows me to play my best.”
Giuggioli and the Tigers will have their first home match of the season today at 2:00 p.m. when they host St. Louis University.